Running While Female

Today was the first long run of the first week of my first training for a half marathon. Five easy miles. Although five miles are never easy for me.

About 4 blocks from my house a guy on a bike wearing hard core racing spandex passed me. I smiled and gave a little wave. Because I smile and wave at everyone I pass, it just seems to be good exercising manners. His face lit up, he flashed me a huge grin. A couple of blocks later I’d forgotten about it.

Just gone the mile mark and I was trying to tell myself four more wouldn’t be so bad. A movement on my right caught my eye. I looked over into the smiling face of the guy from the bike suddenly running beside me. I did not smile back. It was around 9:45 am on a Sunday morning. There were plenty of people around, kids and parents on the playground at the top of the park, a young man taking shots at the basketball court, people walking dogs. And I was scared.

The guy was very fit, not struggling with the slow 11 minute pace the way I was. He stayed beside me or a few steps back. At the corner I sped up and made a right around him. For a little while I though he’d stopped following me. But he had not. Sometimes he was 30 feet behind, sometimes he was right next to me. I have no idea where he left the bike. As we circled around the park again he come up on my left, putting me between him and the curb and making me feel even more boxed in.

I wanted to tell him he was scaring me. I wanted to not give a shit that he was following me. I wanted to be brave. I wanted to call my husband. I wanted my wedding ring to increase in size, protecting me from…what? A guy taking a jog? I wanted to ignore the voice in my head saying my safety was threatened. I mean what was the guy really doing? Maybe he was just out for slow run. I wanted to not wonder if my smile and wave were too friendly back while he was on his bike.

But I did. I worried I had been flirting with him. Even though I knew I had not. I worried that my biker shorts and tank top were inappropriate. Even though they were not. I worried that I was being a weak, shrill woman who was making it all up. Even though I was not.

Who knew what his intentions were? I do not think he was going to hurt me. But he was making me uncomfortable and my reaction of tension and discomfort were clear.

Halfway along the side of the park there is a fire hydrant. I usually circle around it and return to the intersection where I hit two miles. I slowed until he was right next to me. And I quickly made the turn. About three quarters of a mile after he first pulled next to me he left me alone. I scanned my surroundings obsessively for another three quarters of a mile until I couldn’t help myself. I stopped with my back to a couple of trees in some shade and called my husband.

I felt like an idiot. A hysterical idiot. My husband and the boys were at a flea market and he asked if he should come pick me up. I didn’t know. I was scared to go home, scared he was still watching me. Scared in broad daylight surrounded by people. I decided to keep on going.

At four miles my husband called to tell me he was there in the car and he’d drive beside me home. I thanked him and waved him off. I finished the five miles. I did not see the man again.

About a month ago, after the Washington Post op-ed by George Will decrying sexual violence against women on college campuses as overblown, creating an atmosphere of victimhood as a prized and privileged status, the internet blew up with reactions that were all over the place. The ones that stuck with me were those written by women who agreed with Will.  I read responses from women who questioned why college girls always thought they were going to be raped. Women asked why did those girls think they would be so special that someone would want to sexually assault them. Women asked why other women were so hysterical.

The 2012 CDC finding that nearly one in five women will be raped in her lifetime? The statistic is nearly the same as a study commissioned by the Justice Department* in 2007 during the Bush administration. It is not a statistic conjured by a liberal administration or harpy feminists to further their agenda. It is real.

Women fear rape for many reasons. I do not  fear assault because I think I am special or desirable or that every guy is  inherently bad and a potential rapist. Sexual assault is a crime of violence and control, not desire. I have been taught for most of my life that women ask for it through their every action. I have been taught that if I am assaulted no one will believe me. The comments by women in response to Will’s article support that. When someone larger and stronger than me gets in my personal space I get scared.

So what the hell happened this morning?

I don’t think I was ever in real danger. Still, I changed my plans to run along the partially secluded path around a stream across from the park after the second mile. I don’t think the man’s intentions were bad. But he surely knew he was making me uncomfortable and he did not stop.

The bottom line is I am ashamed. For not telling him he was scaring me. For not demanding that he leave me alone. For letting my worry that I would offend him get in the way. For even questioning if I’d been flirting or if I was dressed wrong or if I was asking for it in any way. For feeling small and worthless. For still having dread in the pit of my stomach hours later. For already fearing Tuesday’s run.

I’m ashamed for feeling ashamed.

I expect more from myself. But I also expect more from that man, from any man.

photo (44)

I was not doing anything wrong this morning.

 *Study found through this Slate article.

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18 thoughts on “Running While Female

  1. Carry a miniature air horn. Around $10. But it sure as hell will attract attention. Last year, in my Landscape photography class, a guy kept following one of the cute women in the class and getting in the way of her shots. She finally packed up and walked back to our instructor (male) and the guy STILL would not go away. So the women in the class decided air horns were cool. Could be used in case of a fall, to signal the rest of the class to come running, or to show someone they were an asshole and we would get attention…….I’ve never gone out shooting alone without one. I also started carrying pepper spray, which might be overkill, but who are these douches? You didn’t do anything wrong, you just left yourself vunerable.

  2. Yup…I’m with Joan. Doesn’t matter if I’m justified or not. No shame in trusting your instincts. If he’s a nice guy, he will have learned a valuable lesson on women…

    • I honestly wonder what he was thinking. It was a small thing that he did, but how do you cause distress like that and not stop? What was his endgame? It is hard enough to get myself out the door in the morning for a run. Now there will be a new level of fear that I don’t need. I’m just so pissed about the whole thing.

  3. Stay strong! I recently made a YouTube video about my PTSD recovery you may find useful: http://youtu.be/N3pb8L5ZhcE sorry that happened to you. Being a member of an oppressed class leads to many terrible feelings–the most terrible are the feelings you turn on yourself. Fuck that. You’re great. Intimidation has never been sexy and it’s never in style. Feel those angry feelings–they make sense.

  4. You weren’t doing anything wrong. It’s also not your responsibility to carry around an air horn or pepper spray or *anything* to protect yourself. It also doesn’t sound like you were imagining anything… and who knows what he was thinking. Maybe enjoying some power for 20 minutes? he was bored? who knows. I’m so sorry this happened and I love this post – this is really, really awful and I think you expressed it so wonderfully. Thank you for sharing your story. Hope this never happens again.

    • Yup, it isn’t a woman’s responsibility. But at what point do you just want to buy yourself some peace of mind? It’s a really hard thing. Thanks for your support, though. I really do appreciate it.

  5. One of the absolute best things anyone ever said to me about rape was from a history teacher in high school. I don’t remember how it came up, but it was a serious class discussion. Someone said they didn’t worry about getting raped because they weren’t “hot” enough and I remember completely identifying with that. Our teacher, an older white male who was a fantastic teacher, said something I remember to this day. It went something like this: “A rapist isn’t looking for the cutest person in the room, but the most vulnerable person. They are looking for an opportunity, don’t for a minute think that you are not a target, because you could be. Please don’t give them the opportunity.” I think about that a lot. And I think you were absolutely right to trust your instincts.

    • What a wise and caring teacher. Thanks for sharing it, M. It is a fantastic reminder. I think I have feared it in the abstract because I have always felt weak. Because I, too, never felt “hot” in high school….or in ever.

      You know, I believe there are so many more good people than bad in this world. Hell, the guy (on my fb link dubbed Sir Skidmark) from the run is probably not one of the bad ones. But he did not pause for a moment to notice how he was making me feel.

  6. I am a big fan of trusting the moments when the hair stands up on the back of your neck. We are animals, afterall. He scared you. What an asshole, Karen. Promise me that you get out there today, don’t let this guy steal your power. XO

    • Thanks, Kelly. I almost texted you after, but realized if I did I was going to really fall apart. And there was stuff I actually had to keep it together for yesterday.

      I can’t promise I’ll be back out today because the new boss of me (the training program) has proclaimed this a rest day. But damn it, I will be back out tomorrow.

      • There you go. I have been in your running shoes before, with the creeper tailing me and it is a horrible series of emotions. You detailed them above so accurately it took me a while to respond… XO

      • So not surprised it has happened to you. The reason I wrote this is not because I think I’m special in any way, it is that I think I’m completely ordinary. Stuff like this goes on everyday and we are told it isn’t a big deal, we are making something out of nothing. And it is not ok. So I’m going to talk about it.

  7. I found your article on the Huffington Post. Last summer I was out on a run in a rural area – a route I used to run regularly in the summers – and was assaulted. The man pulled up in a vehicle and pretended to ask for directions. I immediately felt uncomfortable, but told myself it was probably nothing (we’re taught to be nice, right!?), so I gave him directions. He then got out of his truck with a baseball bat and chased me down. I was able to escape serious physical injury, but the emotional part was harder to overcome. I am sorry to hear that other women have to share in this fear – but I thank you for bringing attention to it (without having to use shock value to get readers). Reading the comments to the article in Huffington Post only confirms the need to keep talking about women’s issues and the need for feminism. Keep it up.

    • L.B. thank you so much for commenting. I don’t know what to say beyond I am sorry, truly sorry that you were attacked.

      What happened to me was nothing near to an assault. But clearly assaults happen with shocking frequency. And we should talk about that.

      I wish you well with your ongoing emotional recovery. Thank you again for sharing your story. It is so incredibly important to talk about this stuff, to let men and woman know it is happening.

      You will be in my thoughts.

  8. I came across your post on Huffington Post, and I must say, thank you for publishing such a great post. I know it must have been scary, and I have had some similar run-ins as of late (though no one has actually run beside me — I think I would have flipped my shit). I really relate to what you went through, and it’s so important for all runners, especially the girls!, to think of safety first. It’s ridiculous that this is how it is but better safe than sorry.

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